Saugeen Shores Fire Chief presents 2023 budget to Council

Approximately six months ago, July 2022, Saugeen Shores appointed Ed Melanson as the Director of Fire Services/Fire Chief, and Rob Atkinson as the Deputy Fire Chief.

Melanson was the Fire Chief/CEMC with Fort Erie Fire and Emergency Services prior to taking the position in Saugeen Shores and, on Monday January 30th (2023), he presented his first Fire Service budget proposal.

The municipal fire service implements the three pillars of fire prevention as laid out by the the Ontario Fire Marshall’s Office – public education, fire prevention and emergency response efforts.

According to Melanson, a large part of the plan to move forward is to ensure that the regulatory Bi-law is in place and he will be bringing to Council in April Regulatory By-law recommendations that will set out what Fire Service and Emergency Preparedness will be done in the community.

“Firefighter health and safety are very important and a large part of the capital budget equates to that,” said Melanson.  “Also, community communication will focus on emergency preparedness and we need to update our game. I answer to three bosses – Mayor and Council, the CAO and the Fire Marshall’s Office.”

Saugeen Shores currently has four full-time staff – Fire Chief, Deputy Fire Chief, Fire Prevention Officer, Community Risk Assessment Coordinator and 50 volunteer firefighters.  The department is in the midst of recruiting volunteers and had 62 responses which has been narrowed down to 27 with fitness testing to be carried out.

Under the provincial regulations, all firefighters must be certified on any and all equipment. Historically, training for certification has been carried out 20 times per year but given new regulations, the training will have to increase according to Melanson and, therefore, costs will also increase to $22,000.

“There were 290 calls last year and 50 of those were medical calls,” he explained. “As the community grows we have to look at how we deliver medical services and assist EMS, but that is a decision that is driven by Council and a report will come forward in June or July.”

The Public Education program will be ‘boots on the ground’ with a proposed new internal Public Educators team developed at a cost of $20,000.

A Firefighters’ Awards night to be held every five years recognizes the services of firefighters.  “In the Province there is 20-year medal and a Federal 25-year medal for service,” said Melanson, “but we haven’t had one for seven years and I have budgeted $10,000, as Saugeen Shores has several retired firefighters who have never received this and this is a catch-up request.”

Melanson has also proposed that the Chantry Centre 55+ in Southampton be considered as an Alternate Emergency Operations Centre to meet the spacial needs of emergency preparedness, including a new generator for auxiliary power at a cost of $100,000.  “Currently Concession 6 facility at the Town yard does not meet the requirements and the distance (from Bruce Power) is in question.”

When it comes to Health and Safety, Melanson presented various equipment items that add to the budget.  Firefighters are exposed to chemicals, may fall to PSTD and under legislation “… we have to have the responsibility to provide health care”.

“Considering, for instance, bunker gear.  We are using outdated equipment and we only have one set for each firefighter that then has to be sent out to be cleaned following an incident and the gear is also exposed to exhaust within the stations.  If the gear is away being cleaned, it is no longer in service. Therefore, we are using gear that is outdated and that is unacceptable.  Therefore, if we add 10 sets of bunker gear per year for 10 years, in approximately three years we will have a set of bunker gear for every person.  In addition, we should have an approved washing machine in each station so that we can detail with decontamination and washing on-site. in addition, a fire station exhaust extractor should be in each station to avoid bunker gear contamination.”

“The Training Centre idea is good as we are a leader in Bruce County,” said Deputy Mayor Diane Huber. “Bunker gear is very important and I think it would be great to get two of the special washing machines, one for each station.”

Alternative is Chantry Seniors Centre with the primary being the Plex.  Largest piece of cost is the generator as amount of power required is huge and an upgrade to communications and electrical may be required.

Vice-deputy Mayor Mike Myatt pointed out that the Saugeen Shores fire service budget is $1.1 million in comparison to Owen Sound with a $3 – $4 million budget.

When it comes to recruitment and retention, Melanson said that the department is  looking for 10 more volunteers, with perhaps 12 given possible upcoming retirements.

“Historically, the retention rate has been very good and the Service actually won an award for retention but the issue in the future will be demands by the province on the level of training required,” said Melanson. “It will be difficult to see someone stay 30-40 years given the demands on training and the average may be six or seven years.”

When it comes to compensation, he pointed out that Saugeen Shores is near the top of the provincial range when it comes to paying for response time and is in the middle-to-low range for training.  “Over the next year or two however, it should equalize to put us near the top.  Currently, the compensation is $36/hr. but no mileage is paid from home to a station.  It is paid however, for travel to another municipality for training.”

“In my opinion,” said Myatt, “we received great value with our volunteers and they do an amazing job.  We have one of, if not the best, volunteer fire services in the province.”

Melanson, when asked why so many wanted to volunteer, said that there are a number of reasons including, “…morale is very high and the belief they have in community is high. Some just want to give back and don’t even realize they get paid when called out.”

Councillor Dave Myette asked what the justification was for choosing the Chantry seniors’ centre. Melanson explained that not only does it have the space in the event a full emergency activation is required but “… it is also on a separate power grid if one should be offline and the Town Yard would require extensive work to bring amenities up to standard and as it stands the lack of room would cause considerable distress.”

Mayor Luke said that the Chantry Centre as an alternate emergency site is “…also a good opportunity to make upgrades for improved communications.  Decisions are made around this table to fund training and safety and the costs are pretty low when considering the impact, We want our firefighters to be safe and we want to have the best equipped fire department anywhere.”